The Ransom of Little Deer
Billy Black and his father were not the first Native Peoples that Carlisle had come in contact with since coming to America. That noble honor belonged to Little Deer, and he would never forget her . . . or her courage.
This story is told from Carlisle's POV so there are no notations. You're in his head always.
3. Mending the Broken
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Mending the Broken
As providence would have it, just before dawn we stumbled upon a ramshackle trapper's cabin. So overgrown was it with bramble and small scruffy trees that I had almost missed it completely. Only the faintly lingering human scent that always clung to places of habitation, even long abandoned ones, had drawn me to the hovel.
It wasn't much to look at by civilized standers, a section of the roof had fallen in and it looked as if no one had inhabited the place for many years. Still it would provide shelter from the coming day, and a chance for me to examine and treat Little Deer's injuries.
I pushed the door in with my booted foot and quickly scanned the room, assessing every inch of it with my keen eye. A thick layer of dust and debris covered everything, and the pungent aroma of rodent droppings hung thick in the stale air. Hygienically it was disgusting, but it would have to do. A few miles back the dense forest had given way to a stretch of open grass land, and the day threatened to be sunny. My previous carelessness had caused me to learn my lesson well; never again would I risk being caught in the act of being a vampire.
I found a cot in the far corner of the single room structure. This part of the cabin still retained its roof and it appeared sound to me. I gently deposited Little Deer on top of the lumpy mattress and covered her with my meager wool blanket. There were several tasks I needed to complete before the sun came out in full force. I needed to hunt, of course, the smell of my companion's warm rich blood had aroused my thirst but that would have to wait until night. For now, collecting wood for a fire and obtaining water for Little Deer became my top priority.
Twenty minutes later I was arranging kindling in the long disused stone hearth. As I coaxed the fledgling fire into life I heard Little Deer moan. She had done that often as I carried her through the night and each time it tore at my silent heart. She was in pain and I knew moving her had only exasperated it. To complicate matters, she was already beginning to show signs of infection. Her skin was warmer to the touch that it should be, and I could smell the tell tale back note of illness in her personal scent.
With the fire going I moved to tending my patient's wounds. Head injuries were always a very serious concern, so I carefully washed the dried blood from Little Deer's forehead. Beneath the gore I found a deep gash along her hairline that, under optimal conditions, I would have stitched. Without the instruments in my field kit, however, I could only bandage it. I took the extra cotton shirt I carried from my satchel and began ripping it into long, three finger wide strips to use for bandages.
While the rest of her face was badly bruised, I was relieved to find that none of the fragile bones were broken.
Next I moved to her arm. With one swift movement I re-aligned the ends of the broken bones. Little Deer groaned, but the jolt of pain was brief and she quickly settled again. With the worst part over, I could now splint the arm so that the bone would heal straight. I used several straight sticks and a length of bandage to immobilize Little Deer's arm.
With great care I removed her doeskin dress and tenderly probed her right side; broken ribs were tricky to deal with. To my irritation, I found her whole torso covered in a patchwork of blue and purple bruises. When I gingerly rolled her over, I discovered these marks extended to her back as well. It was clear that she had been horribly beaten. I considered it cruel to treat a dumb beast this way, to treat a child in this manor was an unforgivable sin.
I was correct in my diagnosis; the force of her beating had cracked two ribs on her right side. This sort of injury generally healed well, but one couldn't splint them. The best I could do here was to tightly wrap her torso and hope to keep her still until the bones started knitting.
While she recuperated for my ministrations, I found a pot among the clutter scattered around the cabin and, after washing it, I filled it with clean water and set it near the fire. During our long dark flight, I had stopped briefly near a stream to collect willow bark. From the notes I'd read in the Lewis and Clark journals, the Natives use willow bark to treat pain and fever. When the water came to a boil I would steep the bark to make a tea for Little Deer. It would have been preferable to give her laudanum, but I had left that along with the rest of my medical supplies back in Boston.
"As long as I live," I mumbled to myself as I poked the fire, "I'll never again leave my medical bag behind when I travel. There's no telling who I might meet."
One day passed into two and two days passed into three. By the end of the first day Little Deer was running a high fever that worsened on the second day. I pushed as much of the willow bark tea down her as I could manage and I used cold compresses to soothe her fevered brow. By the end of the second day she was delirious and alternated between sweats and chills. She was young with an iron clad constitution, if I could just get her fever to break, I was confident Little Deer would pull through.
I rummaged through the ruined cabin yet again, searching for anything that might be useful to my patient. My efforts yielded only a few items of value; a rather dusty but otherwise serviceable buffalo robe, two overly large shirts in need of washing before they would be fit to use, a dull rusty hunting knife, and a half of a jug of very potent rum. I pressed the robe into service as a blanket for my patient, in spite of the fire, the nights were starting to turn cold and I didn't want her to catch a chill.
After giving them a sound washing, I put one of the shirts on her to replace the doeskin dress I removed in order to wrap her ribs. Unfortunately, the dress was beyond salvaging as it was soiled with blood and ripped in several places. I hoped Little Deer would forgive me for burning it.
I now sat watching her sleep, peacefully for a change. Her fever was down, but not gone. The tea seemed to be working, easing her pain at least a little and helping with the fever too. I focused my hearing on her breathing, checking once again for the gurgling wet sound that would indicate the presence of pneumonia. This was a common complication in those with cracked ribs. I smiled with relief when I noted clear lung sounds.
My mind wandered as she slept, what could possibly have happened to her. Surly her father hadn't inflicted such grim injuries to his own daughter. Instantly my thought turned to Sweet Grass, had her vengeful step mother been to blame? I wouldn't put it past her, not after she had so heartlessly sold her step-daughter into slavery for a bolt of red cloth and a hand mirror. I shook my head in disgust.
As a species, vampires were sterile . . . our unchanging bodies made us incapable of having children. Yet I found an overwhelming desire among most females of my kind to have and nurture offspring. So strong was this desire that, in the past, the very desperate had stooped to changing small children. This practice was strictly forbidden now, an offence punishable by death. Still it proved to illustrate a bleak point, we who were incapably of producing young from our own bodies valued them more that those for whom child baring was as natural as breathing.
I heard Little Deer take a deep breath and moan. Her heart rate and breathing had been steadily increasing over the past few minutes, she was drifting towards wakefulness. I moved my stool closer to the side of her bed, so she would see me when she woke.
"Little Deer," I called softly. Her eyes burst open and she struggled to get out of bed. "Easy young one, you're safe," I soothed as I gently pushed her back into the lumpy mattress.
Her eyes locked with mine and I watched recognition blaze in their green depths. "Panther Eyes," she mouthed wordlessly. "I begged the Creator to send me help . .. I begged him to send you, and you came." A faint smile ghosted across her lips as her eyes drifted closed again.
"Wait, Little Deer," I wasn't ready to lose her to unconsciousness again just yet. I had waited for four tense days to look into those eyes and know she would live. "What happened to you?"I asked, trying to give her a focus to keep her with me.
She gingerly raised her hands to begin her explanation and winced with pain. I watched a confused scowl crease her brow as she saw her splinted left arm. She looked up at me and I could clearly read the questioning and frustration in her eyes.
"Your arm is broken," I told her gently, "as are two of your ribs." I took her right hand lightly in mine and placed her palm against her side, just over the fractured rib bones. "Here," I whispered. "And you have a nasty gash in your forehead, over you left eye." I didn't bother to mention her lesser injuries, the copious busies would make her sore for now, but would fade with time.
Frustration became her primary emotion. She patted her lips with the fingertips of her right hand and then indignantly shook that same hand in my face. Even without words I clearly understood what she meant.
"Calm down, Little Deer, and listen to me." I reach for her still writhing right hand and held it, hoping to quell her anxiety as well as hold her attention. "I don't need the Trader's Tongue to understand you. It's not your hand gestures that I read . . . it's your lips, as you silently mouth your word in perfect Sioux."
I didn't tell her that I could actually hear some of her words, if she happened to exhale through her moving lips. That would require an explanation of my extraordinary inhuman hearing. I didn't wish to overwhelm her with more information than she needed, if I could get her to trust my lip reading, it would be enough.
Several minutes passed as she considered what I told her. I watched as the look of consternation that twisted her features slowly faded. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before closing her eyes, an expression I recognized, she was gathering her thoughts. Finally she began her story, her lips moved soundlessly but I caught each and every word perfectly. In an effort to be comforting, I continued to hold her hand as she spoke. I could feel her hand twitching beneath mine with the unconscious desire to mimic her words in trader's sign.
~ ~ ~ ~
Her arrival in the village went unnoticed. As she walked among them, the women continued their work, the children continued their games, and the men paid her no mind. Even the dogs remained silent as she wandered through the camp. To all, she was just another girl going about her business. Little Deer found this as unsettling as she did comforting.
After a time, she arrived at the place where her father made his lodge, expecting to find him sitting near the door taking his ease. As a respected elder, this was his right. Instead she found devastation. The lodge had been burned and then filled in with earth. She knew this could only mean one thing, but Little Deer refused to believe the evidence before her.
She hurriedly left the ruined lodge and went in search of Gray Mouse, her father's widowed cousin. When Ground Squirrel died, Gray Mouse took over much of the duties of teaching Little Deer the ways of womanhood. Sweet Grass had no time for teaching a child that was not her own. She found the woman outside the lodge she shared with her daughter, Spotted Fawn. Gray Mouse was putting the final touches on a hide she was tanning. Instantly the old woman recognized her and Little Deer was offered a warm welcome.
Once safety inside the matronly woman's lodge, Gray Mouse explained how Red Pony had gone out looking for his missing daughter. Sweet Grass lied to him, telling him that his miscreant child had run off with the traders of her own accord, but her father knew his daughter well and refused to believe this. Eventually one of the other women, who had overheard Sweet Grass making her trade with Jack Savoy, told Red Pony the truth. Her father divorced Sweet Grass according to the costumes of the tribe.
Six months ago, word arrived that Savoy and his party was plying their goods at a neighboring village. Red Pony and several other warriors set out to find him and free Little Deer. The party returned empty handed and Red Pony was gravely injured. He died of his wounds three days later.
As Gray Mouse was offering her guest food and drink, three young warriors burst through the lodge door and seized Little Deer. They hauled her from the lodge even as Gray Mouse protested loudly. One of the warriors struck the old woman, silencing her. Little Deer was drug to the center of the village where a knot of men and one woman waited. The woman was Sweet Grass and beside her, with a wicked grin curling his lips, was Henry Savoy.
Shortly after Little Deer escaped, Henry came to the village looking for her. He demanded extra payment from Sweet Grass, to replace the value of his runaway property. The divorce left Sweet Grass destitute, like a widow, and she survived off the charity of others and what her son's hunting skills could provide. The only thing she had to offer in payment was herself. Sweet Grass and Savoy were quickly married.
Now she stood before her step mother and the brother of the man who had tormented her for a year. Henry accused her of murdering his brother Jack and demanded her life. Fortunately, the tribal chief had been a good friend of Red Pony's and her father was still highly regarded by the tribal council. The chief insisted on proof. He would not turn Little Deer over to Henry unless either he could either prove her guilt or she freely confessed to the crime.
Little Deer vehemently insisted on her innocents, showing the severed stump of her tongue as proof of her ill-treatment. She was taken to an empty lodge reserved for guests and two warriors were placed outside the door, for her protection. Their presence didn't afford her much in the way of protection, however, because not long after sun down Savoy and two of his lackeys bribed the guards with whisky and sent them away.
Henry decided Little Deer needed to have her memory refreshed so that she could manage to tell the truth . . . after that, the savage beating began. Savoy and his men soon exhausted themselves and fell asleep in the lodge. The next morning when she was asked by the chief if she had killed Jack Savoy, she maintained her incense in spite of her beating.
This infuriated Henry and he decided more persuasive measures were needed. Her torture continued through the day and into the night. When the men left the lodge in the evening to find food at the communal fire, Gray Mouse slipped inside the dark lodge and cut Little Deer's bonds. The old woman gave her a parfleche full of travel food and a skin of water and then she helped Little Deer to the outer edge of the village and into the shelter of the trees.
No sooner had the old woman left her, than the alarm sounded in the village behind her. In spite of her injuries she took off at a painful run. She could hear Savoy's hounds barking and howling in the distance behind her, spurring her to push her injured body to flee even faster. In an effort to throw off the dogs, she emptied the food from the parfleche scattering it as she ran. Eventually she even discarded the empty rawhide pouch.
She ran until her battered body could take the abuse of it no longer. Her mortal body betrayed her, and she collapsed on the ground in the forest. The last thing she remembered before passing out was her silent plea to the Creator for help.
~ ~ ~ ~
Her hand ceased its twitching where it rested under mine and her lips went silent . . . her sad story was over.
I couldn't believe what I just heard. My emotions ran the gamete from pity to rage. My heart went out to poor Little Deer; she'd suffered far more that one her age should. At the same time my deep seated desire to slowly disembowel Henry Savoy burned like fire inside me. In all my existence I couldn't remember ever being this angry at anyone or anything before.
‘You should be angry at yourself,' my father's voice mocked. ‘After all, was it not you who delivered her into the hands of her enemies?'
Ordinarily my inner voice, in the guise of father's mocking tone and ugly word, was easy enough to dismiss. In the beginning of this life, it served as a constant torment, had called me a monster, and urged me to seek my destruction. In my inexperience and weakness, I had listened and sought death in every way I could think of. As time passed, however, I grew in maturity, soon I found a way to live without harming humans and I became immune to it . . . well almost.
While I seldom found its harsh accusations bothersome these days, today it was correct. Taking Little Deer home had been my idea . . . I was the Judas who offered her up to those foul men. I should have known better, Little Deer was lost for a month in the wilderness, seeking her way home. It should have occurred to me that Henry would make for her village and lie in wait for her there.
A gentle tug at my sleeve pulled my attention back to the present. Little Deer was staring at me with the most intents look in her eyes. I wasn't in control of my emotions at that moment, and my face must have been a confusing mask. I could tell she was concerned.
I smiled at her, hoping to settle her anxiousness. "Don't be afraid, child; no one is ever going to hurt you like that again," I whispered. I wasn't exactly sure how I would keep that promise, but even if caused the death of me, I was determined to honor it.
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